By Farooq Wani
Panchayati Raj system plays an important role at grass-root level in the Indian democracy and has gradually been accepted an empowering tool for the people at large.People’s participation is very important for strengthening democracy not only at union o state level, but also at grass-root level. Participation of all is necessary, whether directly or indirectly, to make the system more accountable and transparent. It helps to promote and enhance the leadership qualities and self-confidence of people at the helm of affairs in the Municipalities and Panchayats. Involvement of people also ensures that the elected representatives work with full accountability.
A majority of the population of Jammu and Kashmir is unaware of the benefits of the said system. The bureaucratic delays, political interference, economic reasons and social pressures which made the Panchayati Raj dysfunctional can be controlled if the common man or woman comes to know about the system. The constructive and other social welfare works that are handed to the panchayats and ULBs by the government can improve the human develop indices and standards of living of people by a few notches higher. It will also increase the trust factor in a big way for the netizens of Kashmir and could be a step towards the national integration.
The vital question is of awareness about what change it can bring about in the lives of people. Ideally, we should be electing the best possible persons of the society as our leaders to man the Panchyats and ULBs. But, due to the prevailing situation and threats to life and property, it is understandable that not many would risk that effort. Hence, we have to make do with best possible choice available to us under the circumstances. People have to understand the essence of polls once the representatives are elected how beneficial would be their candidature for public causes. Once the elections are over, there would be a need to provide support to both the elected representatives and community members to understand the nuances of Panchayati Raj, their roles and significance in the whole process to make the elections a worthwhile exercise, which has taken a heavy toll in terms of human lives.
The funds of various schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MNREGA), the Pradhan Mantri (PMAY), the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) and the mid-day meal scheme will be routed through Panchayats. Each panchayat will have Rs 50 lakh to Rs one crore funds available for local development. “Each panchayat will have an accountant for keeping books while an ombudsman will be appointed for transparency and accountability. The panchayats can levy taxes at local level as has been done in some parts of the country. Indeed, if used judiciously, the resources can act like oxygen to nourish people at the lowest, but surest level of governance and administration.
First phase of civic polls of Jammu and Kashmir is scheduled on 8th of October in which 1283 candidates are in the fray for 422 wards. As of now around 78 wards have witnessed only one nomination, which means the candidates would win uncontested. Out of the 78 uncontested wards, 15 are in northern Kashmir, 24 in central Kashmir, 30 in southern Kashmir and nine in Jammu division.
It is pertinent to mention that Government had been postponing these elections since 2016, when Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed triggering a wave of protest across Valley, which lasted for almost five months. Since the announcement of the elections on September 15, Southern Kashmir, which houses 50 per cent of the municipal wards, has turned into a volatile battleground with rampant killings and abductions and burning of Panchyat Ghars. On September 21, three police officers and civilians were killed by militants in Sopore town and seven Panchayat offices were set ablaze. A few days prior to the polls, two National Conference workers were shot dead in Srinagar.
Despite the threats and boycott calls, many youngsters are participating in the elections from the Valley and are ready to face challenges. Youngsters working with NGO’s which have been organising programs and conferences with different departments of the state and central governments are coming forward to participate in these elections.
“Nobody is against Hurriyat, but we have to understand that this is a noble cause. If contesting elections is not prohibited in Pakistan and Hafiz Sayed’s son can contest, why is it banned here,” Waseem Gul, 25, a law graduate said.. He is determined to win and believes that change can be brought through electoral politics alone. There are many courageous leaders in the Kashmir Valley who wish to break the vice-like grip of militant and the divisive forces for the sake of the betterment of their people. Referring to the forthcoming elections to the panchayat and urban local bodies in Jammu and Kashmir, the Home Minister of India said “90 per cent people of the state would like to get involved in the poll process, which the current government has started after a long break.” After being plagued by militancy for three decades, Jammu and Kashmir is crawling out of a devastated economy. The panchayat polls will become handy for the state government to declare the return of normalcy in the valley.
Security agencies are on their toes for the smooth conduct of polls. If there is a decent turnout and polls are peaceful, it will have a positive effect on electoral participation in Lok Sabha polls, scheduled for next year.
*Farooq Wani, Kashmir senior journalist and a political commentator